Guanajuato: A Colonial Jewel On A Silver Platter

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The city clings to the steep sides of a V-shaped canyon in the Central Highlands of Mexico. And other than a narrow strip in the bottom of the canyon, the only way to go is up.

Put on your comfy shoes, because the steep hillsides mean that much of the town can only be reached on foot. It isn’t the most convenient of locations, but that can be explained in one word: silver. The city is Guanajuato, and even though the silver, and the silver barons, are long gone, its narrow streets, alleys, and small, picturesque plazas still make it a delightful destination.

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Miners set up camp here around 1540, and the 1558 discovery of a large silver vein officially put Guanajuato (pronounced wah-nah-WHAH-toh) on the map. Although there was a bit of gold, the mines produced astronomical amounts of silver, making it the true “Mother Lode.” Estimates vary, but some experts say that from the 16-18th Centuries, Guanajuato’s mines produced a third of all the silver in the world. This silver filled the coffers of the Spanish king, and made the mine-owning families fabulously wealthy. And thanks to the silver barons’ wealth and largesse, attractive colonial mansions and elaborate churches still dominate the center.

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But not all of Guanajuato’s charms are stately and grandiose. Thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage status, most buildings in the historic center have been maintained as they were built, and the city’s Spanish colonial feel shines through.

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The city has a relaxed small-town feel, and a large part of the center has been pedestrianized. With intimate pocket-parks around every corner there are plenty of spots to unwind and people-watch.

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City residents and tourists alike venture out in the cool night to the Jardin de la Unión to visit one of the upscale restaurants, hang out with friends, listen to buskers, or just relax on a bench.

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Guanajuato is also known for its callejónes (alleys). The only way to access many of the hillside houses is by trudging up these steep and colorful alleys.

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One of these, the legendary Callejón de Beso (Alley of the Kiss) has houses separated by mere inches. The legend says that a couple of young lovers lived opposite each other, but because she was nobility and he was a common laborer the relationship was not to be. Inevitably the relationship was discovered, and the couple met a tragic end.

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Guanajuato is a vibrant Spanish Colonial jewel, and its calm, casual feel make it the perfect off-the-path destination for afternoon rambles followed by a siesta on a shaded bench. If you’re in the highlands, don’t miss it.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Last updated January 5, 2020

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

59 thoughts

    1. I think that you’d enjoy Mexico Andrew. Other than the beaches, it’s a part of the world that most Europeans probably don’t think much about. But it has lots to offer, and it’s a very easy place to visit. ~James

      1. For Brits Mexico generally means the coast which doesn’t interest us. As in Spain we would prefer to go inland so with your posts as inspiration I will do some research – thanks!

    1. Sue, after this trip, I think that I’ll probably go into color withdrawal. Guanajuato isn’t quite as colorful as San Miguel, but it’s right up there. The colorful buildings and its mountain location, make it a very photogenic place. ~James

  1. With all the colors, it looks like quite a happy place. I’m glad you are enjoying your trip! I wouldn’t want to have to haul my groceries to the top of those hills though.

    1. The hills are something else Laura, but most people here (except maybe us) seem to take them in stride (bad pun, I know). After spending this much time at altitude, when we get back to SSI, we’ll just float right off the pavement. ~James

  2. Your stories and photos remind me how much more there is to Mexico than what we experienced in Morelos State and around Mexico City. I hope people who see your stories and know little about Mexico will see how warm and welcoming the people are, a story that does not get told in the media. My enduring impression of Mexico is how much the people want to be appreciated. They are aware that they are not always well thought of north of the border and they go out of their way to make up for that. Unlike Spain, where people ignore you on the sidewalks, in Mexico people – complete strangers – almost always acknowledged others with a ‘Buenos Dias’ greeting. I kind of miss that. – Mike

    1. Mike, all the people we’ve encountered here have been friendly and helpful. And it’s funny, but before this trip, we hadn’t really spent much time in Mexico. I guess that having it right on our doorstep, our thought was “We can always visit Mexico.” We’ve had a great trip so far, and we’ll definitely consider it for future trips. It’s nice having a relatively short plane trip – and NOOOO jet lag. Yay! ~James

  3. You show me this place just as we’re about to leave Mexico?!! That’s just cruel. Oh well, we’ll put it on the list for next year.

    1. Tom, I’m sure that you guys would enjoy this part of the country. The towns are pleasant and interesting, the excellent (and cheap) bus service makes it easy to get around, and the weather is mild. You should definitely put it on the list. ~James

  4. GTO was simply mesmerizing to me, like Toledo with a difference though. And best part of any city as they say are its people. True. GTO locals are so full of warmth and life. Hope to come to GTO some day around Oct for Cervantinos festival. Very vivid description with images. Rocking…

    1. Everyone we’ve encountered on this trip have been friendly and helpful. It helps to speak a bit of Spanish as well. The festival looks like fun, and the people here certainly seem to enjoy their Cervantes. ~James

      1. Though we do not know Spanish n survived only on eng-spanish app, it was fun to interact with locals. They were so patient n we always parted with a cheerful laugh. How much ever threat perceptions come about Mexico, its people are the charm of this lively country

  5. This is too colourful to be real. Looks more like a wonderful children’s toy village. I love it. How can anyone be found without a smile pasted on in this environment?

    About the legend, to what tragic end did the lovers find themselves? 😦

    1. Tess, I didn’t go into the details because it’s such a downer. But apparently, on discovering his daughter’s love affair, the father plunged a dagger into her heart. Hopefully, the legend isn’t true. ~James

  6. One of my favorite cities in Mexico- so glad it is prospering! If you have time (and the inclination) and want to do something different, check out El Museo De Las Momias (mummies disinterred from a local cemetery) —it resonates wonderfully with the Mexico’s celebration of Day Of The Dead and the older Aztec fascination of death.

    1. We haven’t made it to the Momias, but it’s on the list. Guanajuato really is a delightful town, and the feel is so relaxed. The area around the Jardin, is so active, and is a wonderful place to people watch. ~James

  7. I’m from Guanajuato and I haven’t been there in years! I love that you are traveling in Mexico. Makes me really happy to see other people enjoying a place that is also very dear to my heart.

    1. Thanks Angie. Guanajuato must have been a wonderful place to grow up. It’s small enough to be friendly and safe, and large enough to be interesting. If you’ve followed out posts, we’ve been to San Miguel de Allende, Morelia, and GTO, and it’s our favorite of the three. ~James

    1. Suzanne, I don’t know if you and Terrell have spent much time in Mexico, but the Highlands should go on your list. It’s easy to get to, easy to get around, and very interesting. Also, the weather in the mountains is perfect. Check it out. ~James

  8. Ah, one of our very favorite cities in Mexico. Inquiring minds want to know, did you two stop for a kiss at the Callejón de Beso? Or perhaps you don’t kiss and tell. 😉

    1. I don’t want to sound un-romantic, but the day we were at the Callejon, their was a tour group (non-gringos), and it was an effort to get close enough to see the alley, let alone kiss. But, it is a cool sight. ~James

      1. I am chuckling because the day we were there, there were a couple of young men hoping to make a little money from the tourists by drawing pictures of those who stepped into the alley for a kiss. 🙂

  9. Beautiful colors, good food, friendly people and mummies. What’s not to like? Great blog as always. Another city to add to my list. Between you two and Alison and Don, I may have to spend a whole year in Mexico. Now, if I can just persuade Peggy… 🙂 –Curt

    1. If you guys visit this part of the country, definitely check out Guanajuato. Of the three places we visited, it’s our favorite. It just has such a relaxing feel, and everything is so accessible. ~James

    1. That small cafe has been there since the late 1800s Bronwyn, and it’s still in business. It’s the ultimate perch for people watching. As to all the color, I suspect that instead of getting tired of the color, you’d probably just not notice it quite so much. And what a great place to indulge all those wacky color experiments that you always wanted to do. ~James

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